Youngspiration shoots for the big leagues

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In a new series featuring fresh faces in this years District Council election, we start with Baggio Leung from Youngspiration. He may be a rookie in politics but he has big ambitions to change Hong Kong for the better. (Photo: Youngspiration Facebook)

There has been no shortage of young faces in Hong Kong’s political arena in recent years. Joshua Wong made the cover of Time and former HKFS leaders, Alex Chow and Lester Shum, spoke before the UN Human Rights Council this February. In the run-up to this year’s District Council election, a group of rookies are determined to take on some political heavyweights.  Baggio Leung aims to join the ranks of young people making a name in politics.

LegCo election strategy in DC election

Youngspiration was formed early this year with 150 members, mostly hardcore participants in the Umbrella Movement. Speaking to Harbour Times, Convenor of Youngspiration Baggio Leung claims the group is to be the “third political force” after pan-dems and the pro-establishment camp. Their political message is simple – localism.

“We want to tell people that if you want something, reach out and grab it yourself.”

Challenging the traditional players

Roughly 5 months to the election, their localist platform will be tested soon. However, a late start is not the only thing that should concern these campaigning rookies. DC elections are contests about in-district performance by candidates and focused in hyper local issues, like sidewalk conditions and bus routes. Aspiring DC’s must demonstrate concrete results in improving the livelihood of the community, in contrast to head-to-head political debates about broader issues that dominate LegCo elections. Being the newbies means Youngspiration has no choice but to find new strategies to campaign for the DC election.

It remains to see whether the electorate will view the DC election differently in light of the political reform debate and increasing tension with mainland tourists who have caused nuisances in some communities. Mr Leung believes their election strategy will work and claims that localism is not something too idealistic, but simply encourages people to see things from the perspective of a Hong Kong resident.

In Kwun Lung, he plans to challenge the incumbent District Councillor and DAB LegCo member Ip Kwok-him, directly pitting Mr Leung against might of the best funded and organised political party in Hong Kong. Mr Ip is also the Convenor of the LegCo caucus in DAB.

Youngspiration has conducted a poll on how the neighbourhood feels about the bus running between Kwun Lung and Huanggang Port. The bus line was established to relieve the transport burden of mainland parallel traders on other  routes, but some resent their neighbourhood becoming the end point for more mainland shoppers.

The result showed that 80% of them object to the new route though Mr Ip previously claimed he secured the support from the community. Mr Leung illustrates with this case to show how localism can address day-to-day issues and can be played out at the district level.

“Hong Kong needs a change and ‘if not now, then when?’ I really think this is the last chance for our place and our generation. So, I must do it.”

“We hope to change the ecosystem of the District Council,” Mr Leung says. “People need to communicate more with District Councilors and vice versa.” He believes the 18 DCs are dominated by pro-government groups and the pan-dems haven’t performed well. “We want to tell people that if you want something, reach out and grab it yourself.” Rather than waiting on the world to change, Youngspiration wants to be the driving force. This is especially true given the DC’s expanded role in policy consultation and the increase in its granted power and funding, such as undertaking the Signature Project Scheme which each DC is given $100 million to address the “needs” of the district. In Kwun Tong, the “needs” turned out to be a musical fountain built at a cost of around $50 million.

We are different

“We want people to know that you don’t need to vote for us but if they are willing to listen to us and trying to understand our pursuits, we consider it a success even if they don’t cast their votes for us,” says Mr Leung.

He reiterates that Youngspiration is not a “pressure group” to lambaste the Government and become another hardcore opposition force in LegCo. The group wants to advocate policies so that people know they have alternatives. “People can visualise how their lives can be better having us” and that is to see their policy proposals.

Product, not process

To achieve their goal, Mr Leung says the group is building a think tank and will focus on formulating policies to fit their localist ambitions. In the long run, he hopes Youngspiration can gain seats in LegCo, bring in more voices from the community, and form a shadow cabinet. Rather than calling for an overhaul of the political system, they will take a moderate approach to make use of the current system to affect change.

This sets them apart from numerous localist groups that have sprung out in recent years. Not only does it plan to send at least 9 candidates to run for the DC election, Youngspiration seeks to grow into a political party with a think tank to support their advocacy.

Bottom-up organisation structure

The group has now raised around $110,000 in funds, collected from members on a voluntary basis. “Like in the Umbrella Movement, people who can afford to make donations can do so and if not, they can contribute in other ways,” Mr Leung explains.

The group is also drafting their Constitution which will enable them to attract new members though Mr Leung admits that they worry about hostile infiltration, especially when they adopt a bottom-up approach which every member has equal rights and can freely raise an issue or proposal. A proposal will be officially adopted if at least 40% of members come to vote and a simple majority is obtained.

“If not now, then when?”

At the age of 28, Mr Leung is a Digital Marketing Manager at a consulting firm. He was thrown into the world of politics because of the Umbrella Movement. For 79 days, he volunteered at all the four occupation zones to “do what [he] needed to do”.

He acknowledges the challenge he is facing and remains steadfast. Quoting Gorbachev, he says: “Hong Kong needs change and ‘if not now, then when?’ I really think this is the last chance for our home and our generation. So, I must do it.”